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Starlink connectivity revolution creating crew isolation issues

Image: SpaceX Starlink satellites in space stacked together before deployment.
Space X’s Starlink is creating a “small revolution” in shipboard communications for seafarers but this is also resulting its own challenges in terms of isolation.

According to the latest Q3 edition of the Seafarers Happiness Index connectivity is the number one driver for retention of seafarers. Speaking at Ocean Technologies Group customer seminar in Singapore, Peter Schellenberger, Director and Founder of Novamaxis, noted that connectivity came ahead of both shore leave and adherence to contracts.

A differentiator in terms of crew connectivity since its launch early this year is low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications service Starlink which provides much higher levels of bandwith at considerably lower cost creating what Schellenberger described as a “small revolution” in the industry.

Within less than a year there are already 7,000 vessels with the Starlink on board and he said, “I rarely speak with a company that is not doing at least trials with Starlink.”

At present the improved service is going mostly to crew connectivity. Schellenberger explained this improved connectivity could create its own challenges as seafarers disappear into their cabins with their digital devices and social activity on board decreases yet further.

“So, I think our challenge is then to define this mixture of physical incentives and activities that re-engages people and make them communicate,” he said.

To encourage social activities a company standard for recreational spaces such as proper gym equipment, table football, table tennis, board games and live streaming TV. While such facilities might sound quite basic Schellenberger said it was “quite shocking” how many vessels were not equipped in such a way.

As well as challenges with crew isolation created by better connectivity there is also the risk requirements and demands on seafarers from the shoreside will increase.